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  • Writer's pictureJoe Lyons

U.S. Attorney and FBI Cleveland Warn About COVID Fraud Enforcement Scam



CLEVELAND - A new twist on an old scam is targeting consumers and businesses throughout Northeast Ohio. The United States Attorney’s Office, Northern District of Ohio, and FBI Cleveland are warning the public about a scam that combines aspects of tech-support fraud with government impersonation.

 

In this scam, the victim receives a document or documents resembling an official court document both in its format and language, sent through an email, the U.S. Mail, a text, or website pop-up. The document and/or accompanying notice state that the victim is being investigated for Paycheck Protection Program (“PPP”) fraud and that an arrest warrant has been issued. The notice asserts that the Department of Justice (“DOJ”) Civil Division’s Commercial Litigation Branch has issued it, and it states that, to “lift the warrant,” the victim must go to a cryptocurrency kiosk and make a designated payment. Such notices and documents are fake, and persons who receive them should report receiving them to the FBI at https://www.ic3.gov.

 

“Fraudsters are often quite sophisticated. Time and again, we see these criminals refine their schemes to make their false claims seem more believable, and then succeed in cheating our community members of their hard-earned money,” said U.S. Attorney Rebecca C. Lutzko. “Recently, we are seeing more and more scammers impersonate law enforcement officers, government agencies, banks, and companies, and use these false personas to convince their victims to hand over money, gold, or other things of value. The United States Attorney’s Office, the FBI, and our other law enforcement partners will continue to pursue such scammers aggressively, but we would much rather prevent a scam than prosecute one. Please remain vigilant, treat unsolicited emails, texts, and pop-up ads with suspicion, and check in on friends or loved ones who you think might be particularly susceptible to these types of scams. And if you believe that either you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, promptly report it to the FBI or, if appropriate, call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11 [1-833-372-8311].”

 

“Scammers are becoming increasingly clever in the way they are portraying government agencies and banking and financial institutions,” said FBI Cleveland Special Agent in Charge Greg Nelsen. “This scam-- creating bogus documents designed to look like a court summons and compelling the victim to oblige or face arrest, jail time, or further action, highlights the efforts the criminals will take to dupe unsuspecting victims. We can’t stress enough to the public that the government will not contact you via email or text with a summons for action, payment, or arrest and instead, urge residents to place a phone call with the publicly listed phone number of the government agency, not the number or email listed in the [bogus] document, to confirm if a communication was sent by that agency. Typically, it’s a scam. And in that case, we ask that you report it to the FBIs Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.”

 

In addition to COVID Fraud Enforcement and PPP Resolution scams, internet-based crimes continue to target all Americans. According to information from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, last year, consumers in Toledo, Akron, Cleveland, Youngstown, and beyond reported that they received notifications that their computer or Amazon account was compromised. These alerts came in the form of websites or pop-ups. Victims believed they were talking to tech support staff from Microsoft or Amazon and then were transferred to other individuals who represented themselves as an "officer of the law" or staff from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) or Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) who then requested tens of thousands of dollars to remedy the situation. The victims were asked to put the cash in a package and then meet with a “federal marshal” for the pickup. The locations where the victims met the couriers were areas like gas stations, fast food restaurant parking lots, and even their own homes. Sometimes the victims were shown educational videos about fraud by the scammers and thanked for “doing the right thing” and supporting law enforcement efforts. Victims were often older consumers who lost tens of thousands of dollars. While tech support scams are not new, this newest trend is quite frightening because scammers are requesting face-to-face meetings for cash pickups while impersonating law enforcement. Both seniors and their families should be aware of this and other, similar scams.

 

Consumers who are asked to wire, pay, or transport large amounts of cash or crypto currency to avoid arrest, jail time, or fix a tech support or some type of business-related account issue should cease communications, and instead contact the FBI directly by filing a report online at the Internet Crime Complaint Center (https://www.ic3.gov).

 

Additionally, consumers should always try to verify questionable correspondence with a government agency or member of law enforcement by a separate means—such as contacting them directly using information found on an official website.

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